Student formative feedback

Author: itc publications   Date Posted:12 October 2020 

Offering meaningful student formative feedback early and regularly makes sense. Effective formative feedback provides targeted and specific advice for students on how to improve...

Offering meaningful student formative feedback early and regularly makes sense. Effective formative feedback provides targeted and specific advice for students on how to improve. If provided early in the unit, it also allows time for students to act on the advice. No wonder it’s so effective in bettering students results! 

Why then, if formative feedback is so beneficial, is it not provided more often in schools?

Co-founder of Queensland-based company, itc publications, Gerard Alford suggests there is one simple answer: no time!

“I’ve visited hundreds of schools, and teachers know that formative feedback is highly effective. They get it; however, their problem is time,” Alford said. 

As an educator of 20 years, Mr Alford is a strong supporter of the effectiveness of formative feedback but believes that, in order to allow for more formative feedback in the classroom, we must be strategic in how it is delivered. 

“It comes down to some simple arithmetic,” he stated. 

“If you have a class of 24 students and a teacher spends 15 minutes providing one-on-one feedback per student, that equates to 6 hours of work! Multiply that by the number of classes a teacher is assigned and the feedback points they must go over and it quickly balloons into a number that is overwhelming,” Alford said.

Mr Alford suggests that formative feedback should be identified firstly in the unit plans and then the teacher must decide which type of formative assessment will be used. 

Studies by academics, Hattie & Timperley and Dinham show that predominately negative feedback, discourages student effort and achievement. Feedback, therefore, should be positive, constructive, specific and offer genuine praise.

“When planning units, key junctures need to be identified. For example, early in the unit, teachers want to know that students understand the key terms and concepts. To ascertain this, teachers may ask students to complete a Cause - Effect Map, a Concept Map or explain the concept using a metaphor. Whichever method is used, the question remains: how will the teacher provide each student with feedback in a reasonable timeframe?” he said.

Mr Alford recommends teachers choose a formative feedback strategy that involves students and demands their engagement in the feedback process. 

“It’s all about involving students more in the process. The teacher can stimulate and direct the flow of feedback by identifying general feedback points. Thereafter, students can view other students’ work, including some excellent work as identified by the teacher, and ultimately determine which general comments are applicable to them. Only after this exercise, if the student is still unsure, should they seek 1:1 teacher feedback,” he said. 

Mr Alford, and his colleagues at itc publications, have worked to formulate student-engaging feedback strategies and resources to help teachers save time. One such strategy is the itc Feedback Summary Crib Sheet which uses the class’ collective efforts to give each student feedback. 

“itc publications’ Feedback Summary Crib Sheet is a feedback strategy where the teacher quickly reads through the student responses and provides one summary sheet of feedback to students. The summary gives insight into what the students did well in; what can be done even better; what were the common misconceptions and magic moments; and what was the missing or incomplete work?” he explained. 

“Once the students receive this feedback summary, they view at least two other students’ work and then complete the Next Stepsarea of the template,” Mr Alford stated. 

An important aspect in all of Mr Alford’s formative feedback resources is that each strategy is designed to give students effective feedback early in the unit without taking hours of the teacher’s time. 

He suggests that it is important for teachers to have a wide repertoire of feedback strategies. 

“Just as all teachers have a range of strategies for other teaching activities, it’s really beneficial for teachers to have a range of formative feedback strategies that they can readily draw upon. We outline 14 feedback strategies in our resources, but 4-5 is probably enough,” he said. 

Although Mr Alford is a big proponent for feedback that involves student and peer participation, he does not undervalue the importance of 1:1 feedback. 

“It’s not to say that we should not have 1:1 teacher feedback; we should, it’s effective! The problem is that it can be very time consuming, so it is important to supplement it with other feedback strategies,” he stated. 

Black and William, in their 2009 study, suggest that feedback strategies provide clear guidelines for students on what is required to complete the task and a process to follow; which are two important elements of the feedback process.  

Gerard Alford is a Director of itc publications.

itc publications develops a range of user-friendly resources and professional development programs, including their online platform thinkdrive, to support teachers and schools in their desire to promote effective teaching and learning.

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